The Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams

Excerpt

This book is different in aim from the two recent studies of Vaughan Williams by the late Hubert Foss (1949) and Dr. Percy Young (1953). It was virtually completed before the latter was published. Foss's book was not analytical and contained no examples in music-type. It did, however, contain a chapter of biography--from the composer's own pen. Young's book may be described as a critical study. Mine is neither biographical nor critical but is wholly expository. Its method is that of conventional analysis, but its intention is in general to relate technical features to aesthetic effect. I believe this to be a sound approach to the criticism of a work of art: the listener is confronted with a piece of music, he reacts to it and then proceeds to some sort of judgement on it; if he can indicate a technical feature in support of his particular verdict on this or that aspect of the work he makes his criticism so much the more precise. Contrariwise, if he notices some novel procedure, he will ask himself 'Now why that?' and the answer will give him an understanding of the composer's expressive purpose. This then, though it sounds rather pompous to apply to a book of glorified programme notes, is intended as a study in applied aesthetics.

The origin of the book is simpler still. Many years ago I wrote two short booklets (now out of print) in the Oxford University Press's 'The Musical Pilgrim' series in continuation of Mr. Alan Dickinson's An Introduction to the Music of R. Vaughan. Williams. It is impossible to keep up with the composer's astonishing productivity and rather than pursue him a lap behind with a fourth 'Pilgrim' it seemed better to publishers and author to try and get a more comprehensive view. Even so, I have not succeeded in mentioning everything in his output and have been beaten on the post by his latest choral work for the Worcester Festival of 1954, This Day (Hodie). The contents of the two 'Pilgrim' booklets have been incorporated, with some modifications, into the larger context of this wider survey.

Musical analysis is notoriously recalcitrant to literary treatment . . .

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